Lessons from Syria

The situation in Iran is more complicated than in either Syria or Iraq. There is no simple military solution to Iran’s aspirations for nuclear weapons.

March 21, 2018 20:51
3 minute read.
Lessons from Syria

THEN-SECRETARY of state John Kerry signs the Iran deal in 2016.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Israel took responsibility on Wednesday for destroying Syria’s plutonium reactor, over a decade after the fact, but not to improve its deterrence in the region.

Though Israel has until now resisted admitting to carrying the mission which knocked out the reactor that was being developed with North Korean help to manufacture nuclear weapons for Syria, it was an open secret that Israel was behind the operation.

Nations throughout the region from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States to Jordan and Egypt have assumed from the beginning that Israel is responsible for preventing Syria from obtaining nuclear weapons and they are thankful. They have similar interests as Israel in preventing Iran from going nuclear. And they are also wary of attempting to develop their own nuclear weapons for fear that Israel will stop them.

Israel did not take responsibility for the attack until now primarily to maintain deniability and prevent a war with Syria.

Now that the IDF Censor has removed restrictions surrounding publication of the operation, we can speak openly of how critical it was for Israel to act against the Syrians.

Imagine the nightmarish reality if Israel’s intelligence services had not uncovered the Syrian-North Korean project and acted to stop it. The US was bogged down in Iraq. The Bush administration had no appetite for another military adventure.

If on September 6, 2007, Israel had not sent eight Israeli F-15 and F-16 fighter planes to drop 18 tons of explosives on the reactor, the Assad regime would have become the most powerful and influential Arab nation in the region. Indeed, it was on the verge of doing just that.

This is the same Assad regime that is responsible for the deaths of more than 400,000 and the displacement of 10 million; that has no qualms using chemical weapons and barrel bombs against its own civilians; that has stopped at nothing to remain in power.

This is the same Assad regime that is in cahoots with Iran and that would have used its nuclear weapon capability to amplify the Islamic Republic’s influence throughout the region.

The apocalyptic scenarios of what could have happened had Israel not destroyed Syria’s reactor are endless. Deir al-Zor, the province on Syria’s eastern border near the Euphrates River where the reactor was located, was for a time under the control of Islamic State. Imagine what would have happened had nihilistic Islamists gotten their hands on a nuclear weapon during the Syrian civil war.

Israel’s attack on the Syrian reactor is proof that sometimes there is no substitute for force. Attempts to stop Syria diplomatically could have led to a war. A carefully planned, pinpoint covert military operation that Israel could deny was the perfect solution.

And while the Syria operation was based on the same reasoning as the 1981 military strike against Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor – that Israel will not tolerate nuclear proliferation in the region – it was also very different.

Unlike Menachem Begin, who chose not to notify the Americans before the attack on Osirak, Iraq, former prime minister Ehud Olmert worked in full cooperation with the Bush administration. And unlike Begin, who decided that Israel would take credit for the operation, Olmert kept the Syria attack a secret until now to prevent Syria from launching a counterattack and sparking a war with Israel.

But the underlying message from both the Osirak and Deir al-Zor operations is that Israel – or for that matter the nations of the region – cannot tolerate nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

As the US prepares to renegotiate – or scrap – the Iranian nuclear deal, it is important not to draw simplistic conclusions. The situation in Iran is more complicated than in either Syria or Iraq. There is no simple military solution to Iran’s aspirations for nuclear weapons. But the principle is the same: No country in the Middle East can be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.

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